More and more RMC players and project implementing agencies are opting for bulk deliveries against split bags to save on costs and to curtail wastage.
Bulk distribution of cement is slowly but steadily replacing the once ubiquitous cement bags, changing the composition of cement channel supply chains forever. Bulk cement is consumed by ready mix concrete (RMC) manufacturers and project implementing agencies across the country. However, bag cement is refusing to disappear from the scene. For other activities like plastering, brickwork etc., bag cement is required, besides catering to the rural demand, where a lot of consumers order lower quantities.
"About 75% of requirements of RMC manufacturers are supplied through bulk only. The trend is building up towards bulk as wastage is low and cost is competitive. It saves on the cost of bags and wastage is less than one per cent. In the next couple of years, the trend will continue towards bulk," says AK Bal, Director of Pune-based Viraj Projects Pvt Ltd, which deals in steels, sand, dyes, bricks and tiles, besides cement.
Earlier the concept was use of split bags for even medium and big projects. But the trend is changing for several reasons. "Now, everybody has installed silos and has a big RMC plantat the site, particularly in South Mumbai, where you can see new towers coming up. They go for RMC orders, practically due to space constraints. This is the reason bulk cement has moved there, and this trend will continue," says Nikesh Parekh of Mumbai-based Span Cements, which also deals in paints, construction chemicals and tile adhesives.
For urban supplies and infrastructure projects, bulk supplies are being preferred, so demand for bulk supplies is expected to rise, says Bal, citing the example of Odisha, where bulk cement supplies were almost absent a year ago and gaining prominence of late.
Cement bag go into retail shops, who supply it to small contractors. "With the entry of specialised products like ready-made plasters, tile adhesives, mortars, polymer mortars etc., bag cement in retail will slowly diminish in future. In other developed countries, you do not get loose bag cements." Independent dealers
Few producers sell their goods directly to the final users. But, most use intermediaries to bring their products to market. The latter involves forging marketing channels, which can be described as a set of interdependent organizations that help make a product or service available for use or consumption by the consumer. Hence a company’s channel decisions will have a direct bearing on its marketing success.
There is an apprehension that some independent marketing players could takeover the building material channel operations wholesale in the days to come. There are already a couple of start-ups which are doing this in building materials. Nitin Vyas, Managing Director, Beumer Group says, "I believe that the next step for it would be having a platform for all cement-related industries to become an Uber (online call taxi service) of cement distribution. In the end, the cement producers would be containers, but the interface to the market would be the service companies who are reaching the material to the end customers. And that can’t be stopped."
Even some of the dealers have started guarding against this impending trend though it is not widely prevalent as of now. Span Cements has already started taking orders online from their customers. However, if online orders are accepted by any firm then they may seek payment in advance.
But for that there is no big change in the cement channels. The dealers opt for multiple dealerships for cement, so that they cannot disappoint any customer seeking a particular brand. Single dealerships are a rarity. Dealer-based
Cement is a pure commodity. Most of the cement manufacturers still deal with customers through distributors or dealers. "Though the companies are maintaining accounts of some key customers, the supplies are routed through dealers and distributors. Companies never supply cement directly to anybody. They want to encourage distributors also for insuring their receivables. The companies want to get their payment on time, so dealer will be in between to take care of payments," says Bal of Viraj.
"We have virtually become insurance agent for our principal (manufacturer for their receivables) than a marketing agent, and financier for our customer," Parekh says while explaining the role of cement dealers in the supply chain. For steel sector it is different – there customer pay interest for delayed payment. In steel, direct supply system from manufacturers is still prevalent. As far as sand goes, they have to make the spot payment, because natural sand is a very scarce commodity today. Whatever available is manufactured sand.
Comparing the channels between cement and steel, Bal says, "Another difference is cement has to be consumed within three months from the date of manufacture, hence some dealers push it through credit. That is not the case with steel, which can be stored for a couple of years without erosion in quality, if properly stored."
There is a general consensus among the dealers ICR has contacted about the upward trend in cement prices in the coming months, mostly banking on the pre-election infrastructure boost that will take place in the next 12 months before general elections scheduled for May 2019.
Bal of Viraj is expecting the cement prices to go up to Rs 270 plus GST per bag in the next two quarters from the present level of 230 plus GST in Pune. Even builders are trying to complete their projects at the earliest to cash in on their land banks. The reason is that earlier the building prices were going up rapidly giving hope that the builders can make more money if the project is delayed. Now, there is no such hope. "Now the rise in building/floor price is only 4-5 per cent a year, which is not sustainable if the project is delayed as it does not even cover the incremental interest cost incurred. Besides, input prices are moving up," Bal added.
If there is any hindrance to cement demand growth that is ‘availability of finance’, particularly in the wake of the government swooping down on defaulting companies and bad loans. "Financing has become tight everywhere. We (as dealers) have a certain capacity and I cannot go beyond that or else I will also fall. If any builder calls me and tells me that I can only pay you only a couple of weeks later, I will have to accept it. Otherwise they will stop taking my supplies. As far as payments to companies are concerned, we work on one principle – RTGS in 48 hours."– BS Srinivasalu Reddy
Delhi to hold FCC’s India Roads Conference on 12th Oct
To be hosted at Hotel Shangri-La Eros, New Delhi, the conference will witness more than 25 experts, policymakers, and industry leaders discussing innovative technologies, sustainable practices, and funding opportunities that promise to revolutionise the road construction landscape in India.
FIRST Construction Council (FCC) – an infrastructure think tank – will be hosting the 13th India Roads Conference (IRC) on October 12, 2023 at Hotel Shangri-La Eros, New Delhi, to explore new opportunities in the road construction business. To be hosted as a part of India Construction Festival 2023 (ICF 2023) along with Construction World Global Awards 2023 (CWGA 2023) and Equipment India Awards 2023 (EI Awards 2023), IRC 2023 will focus on transforming India’s road infrastructure by presenting an unique platform for networking, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration.
India’s road development sector is poised for unprecedented growth, housing one of the largest road networks in the world, spanning over 6.3 million km. The National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) forecasts a substantial investment of Rs 111 trillion in infrastructure projects during fiscals 2020-25, with a a significant portion allocated to the road sector. Against this backdrop, the 13th India Roads Conference intends to discover the abundant market opportunities, the latest trends, and how the industry can capitalise on this thriving sector.
Renowned experts, policymakers, and industry leaders will converge to discuss innovative technologies, sustainable practices, and funding opportunities that promise to revolutionise the road construction landscape in India. Some of the confirmed speakers for IRC 2023 are Lt. General Harpal Singh, Former Engineer-In-Chief, Indian Army; Dr Manoranjan Parida, Director, CSIR-CRRI; Ajay Kumar Mishra, President, Dilip Buildcon; RK Pandey, Former Member Projects, NHAI & Former ADG, MoRTH; SK Nirmal, Secretary General, India Roads Congress; Premjit Singh, CEO – Transportation, Welspun Enterprises; TR Rao, Director (Infra), PNC Infratech; Hardik Agrawal, Director at Dineshchandra R Agrawal Infracon Pvt Ltd, Thumu Karthik, CEO, LivSYT (DevIndia Technologies); Pawan Kant, CEO, LTIDPL IndVIT Services Ltd (IM to IndInfraVIT Trust); and Palash Srivastava, CEO, IIFCL Projects among others.
The roadmap of the future
India currently has one of the largest road networks in the world, spanning over 6.3 million km. Of this, around 2 per cent are National Highways, 3 per cent are State Highways and the rest are part of the district and rural road network. Over 64.5 per cent of all goods and 90 per cent of passenger traffic move by road.
India has seen significant growth in its road network over the last five years, as the government has given priority to this sector. For the financial year 2022-23, the Central budget allocated more than Rs 2.70 trillion to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH). The importance attached to the sector is also evinced by the fact that it accounts for approximately 18 per cent of the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP). Various state governments are also developing critical road corridors as a catalyst of economic development. Lately the focus has been on road safety, green initiatives, digital transformation and augmentation of funding sources.
Explaining the significance of IRC 2023, Pratap Padode, President, FIRST Construction Council, said, “India, not China, has the second-largest road network in the world after the US, spanning about 63.32 lakh km. NHAI awarded total projects of 6,003 km with a value of Rs 1.26 trillion during FY23. A provisional target of constructing about 13,800 km has been set for 2023-24. This presents excellent opportunity for all the stakeholders in the sector. India Roads Conference 2023 will explore ways on how to build a robust, safe road network by using latest technologies while meeting environment norms.”
In line with the market trends, experts during the India Roads Conference 2023 will deliberate on following relevant topics:
- Shaping regulations for safe and sustainable roads
- Revolutionising road construction with technology
- Accelerating road infrastructure with better financing opportunities
- Safer roads: Innovative designs for enhanced safety
Attendees can gain valuable insights from dynamic panel discussions, insightful keynotes, and cutting-edge innovation showcases. Thus, by participating in India Roads Conference 2023, delegates can stay ahead of industry trends, forge valuable partnerships, and contribute to building safer, greener, and more efficient road networks.
IRC 2023 is supported by Tiki Tar and Shell India (Silver Partner), Tata Hitachi (Equipment Partner), PNC Infratech Ltd (Associate Partner), and LivSYT (Technology Partner).
About India Construction Festival 2023
Organised by the FIRST Construction Council in collaboration with Construction World and Equipment India magazines, the 9th India Construction Festival (ICF) stands as a cornerstone in the construction and infrastructure industry. India Construction Festival serves as the single largest platform for celebrating India’s remarkable infrastructure journey, bringing together all stakeholders in the industry under one roof. This comprehensive approach fosters collaboration, facilitates knowledge sharing, and creates networking opportunities that are pivotal for the growth and development of India’s infrastructure sector. ICF 2023 will comprise three major events: 13th India Roads Conference, 11th Equipment India Awards and 21st Construction World Global Awards.
About FIRST Construction Council:
FIRST Construction Council (FCC), an infrastructure think tank established in 2003, focuses on providing the latest updates on the construction industry in India, and is dedicated to promoting its causes and needs. FCC provides a platform to promote the adoption of best practices and be the torchbearer for all policy initiatives that are needed to enhance the importance and welfare of the construction industry and the industry’s unified voice. FCC also hosts conferences/events like India Construction Festival, Metro Rail Conference, Infrastructure Today Conclave 2023, etc.
Assessing the Role of Branding
ICR looks at differentiating factors that influence the branding decisions for cement companies and the impact of messaging and brand positioning on the customer’s mindset.
Branding gurus will say that the purpose and intentionality of branding is to create an image in the minds of the consumers and the connected community at large, which could be much more than the mere product on offer (with its features and characteristics). The image, once firmly entrenched in the minds of the interested people, would augur well to create a sense of trust and loyalty, the hallmark of connectedness with the ‘idea’ that exceeds the sum total of what the product offers. This trust, loyalty or the bond establishment is at the core of creation of a brand as an asset that would provide cash flows many years into the future. If one wants to measure the value of a brand, one would need to look at the net present value of future cash flows that the brand-asset would end up coalescing, which could only happen when the right actions are directed to ward off competition and a stability is provided to the continuing engagement with the final consumer, either directly or in conjunction with various intermediaries.
Some of this would simply flow from the community to which the customer is part of. In the case of cement, this starts from the building and construction engineers, the architects, masons, builders, dealers, channel partners, partners in the community, which could include the government and regulatory agencies as well, where the product in question is being used. The place could eventually become part of the greater whole, the region or the country, if the product is integrated into a large bundle of choices put into one that transcends the locale.
Product positioning If we want to direct our attention into cement branding, we can hardly ignore the fact that cement remains a commodity, which by definition means that differentiation possibilities are minimal.
Harold Hotelling’s paper, Similarities in Competition (1929) for products that are commodities, gave us the mathematical proof that in markets for selling such products, one would see them being sold as close to each other as possible. This explains why in local markets you have commodity sellers like vegetable sellers or fish-sellers selling in the same place, sitting next to each other, side by side and not far apart from each other. This is because the customers would want to minimise the cost of logistics (the cost of connecting becomes the only differentiating factor, which the customers want to minimise).
The exact opposite of this would be when two dis-similar items are to be sold that are highly differentiated. The proof of this is provided in Jean Tirole’s seminal book, Industrial Organization, the ‘position’ of these two selling items will be as far apart from each other as possible. Here, the cost of connecting is where the maximum differentiation will lie and that is going to be the pivotal factor in making the two items dis-similar from each other.
Thus, creating a unique value proposition in a commodity would be to make that commodity appear as a different identity when compared with a similar commodity. This identity cannot be simply the product features, attributes or specification, but an identity built on an idea that makes a unique connection with the consumer.
Leading by example
How on earth could we create a unique value proposition through branding of this commodity? That is where cement branding has been the most successful model among almost all commodities.
But cement is lucky in some respects as it can be packaged and once you package it, what is inside loses its meaning and what you end up seeing is the package that can be used to replace the product inside. The package assumes the identity of the product, no matter how similar or dissimilar what is inside, one could end up creating an image of what you want the ‘interested party’ to believe it to be. This could be a way of initiating the branding exercise in cement, or what we call the ‘tip of the iceberg’, which is in the packaging of the product. But we will see that it is a very small part of what the total brand is all about.
Furthermore, trust can only be established over not one but many transactions that look at the value that stems from painstakingly creating the ever-expanding pie of the future. This is no splash in the pan, but a continued engagement that must rely on all signals that the people on both sides would be happy to be a part of.
Making the message work
Cement brands, no matter how different they are, have been able to create their unique value proposition or niche in the market. You have some leaders in the Indian market that built their brand on the appeal it creates on the engineers, architects, masons and the builders; they are the community who will influence the bulk of the buying of cement. With taglines ranging from the ‘Engineer’s Choice’ and ‘Giant Compressive Strength’ to ‘Cementing Relationships,’ and with the central idea of trust as a theme, the brands have evolved to dominate their own individual space. The continuity of the messaging and complementing such themes with actions on the ground, building partnerships that resonate on these themes is where these brands have progressed and prospered.
Messaging to the consumer on the product quality, durability and strength have been the dominant theme among the local communities. These have remained the final conversation that cannot be avoided when the eventual buyer, the individual house owner and the builder combine to make the final choice with the influencers of all kinds. Consistent messaging that lives up to the expectation and stays with the combine when the product is in use for many more years, would be the foundation to build on. But these may not be the only messaging, as prices could become the bone of contention, sparking messaging like ‘Not Cheap’, stating that the perception could be wrong about the value of the product.
Some brands have got rebranded, for example Grasim got merged with L&T Cement and came up with their overarching value proposition to be the ‘Engineer’s Choice’, a path-breaking branding that has catapulted them to the top of the league. But making the company and its values be aligned to the messaging is where the actual scoring happens. The customer’s trust stems from the overall experience of buying that is weighed against the sum total of promises made and the actual experience tallied against them. It would be wrong to appeal to some specific attributes while strengthening your brand, you could dilute the attention required on every other aspect that you hold the promise to.
Influencing the customer
The economic impact of a brand, simply summarised, would be the effect of the brand in the customer’s buying decision. The customer in this case is just not the buyer, which could be different in different cases, but a whole lot of influencers – from institutions, government, community, the common home buyer, builder, architect or the engineer or the dealers, the effect of the brand must be looked at in all these constituencies. Building trust on such a wide group of people cannot be made with just messaging alone. It can only be built through long hard work on all the aspects we just discussed, where quality of product and service, packaging, price, tradition, delivery on promise, all could play a
Advertising or branding is never about driving sales. It’s about creating brand awareness and recall. It’s about conveying the core values of your brand to your consumers. In this context, why is branding important for cement companies? As far as the customers are concerned cement is simply cement. It is precisely for this reason that branding, marketing and advertising of cement becomes crucial. Since the customer is unable to differentiate between the shades of grey, the onus of creating this awareness is carried by the brands. That explains the heavy marketing budgets, celebrity-centric commercials, emotion-invoking taglines and campaigns enunciating the many benefits of their offerings.
Marketing strategies of cement companies have undergone gradual transformation owing to the change in consumer behaviour. While TV commercials are high on humour and emotions to establish a fast connect with the customer, social media campaigns are focussed more on capturing the consumer’s attention in an over-crowded virtual world. Branding for cement companies has become a holistic growth strategy with quantifiable results. This has made brands opt for a mix package of traditional and new-age tools, such as social media. However, the hero of every marketing communication is the message, which encapsulates the unique selling points of the product. That after all is crux of the matter here.
While cement companies are effectively using marketing tools to reach out to the consumers, they need to strengthen the four Cs of the branding process – Consumer, Cost, Communication and Convenience. Putting up the right message, at the right time and at the right place for the right kind of customer demographic is of utmost importance in the long run. It is precisely for this reason that regional players are likely to have an upper hand as they rely on local language and cultural references to drive home the point. But modern marketing and branding domain is exponentially growing and it would be an interesting exercise to tabulate and analyse its impact on branding for cement.